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Higher order, critical thinking

Are YOU with the 21st century? By Elaine Gallagher One of the reasons why Mexico, Latin American countries, Spain and Portugal are receiving low PISA scores, consistently, year after year, despite «reforms » in education, is because the reforms are more administrative than concentrating on real academic transformation in the classroom.            PISA = Program […]

Autor: UNOi

Fecha: 19 de junio de 2013

Elaine Gallagher 10 ceg

Are YOU with the 21st century?

By Elaine Gallagher

One of the reasons why Mexico, Latin American countries, Spain and Portugal are receiving low PISA scores, consistently, year after year, despite «reforms » in education, is because the reforms are more administrative than concentrating on real academic transformation in the classroom.

           PISA = Program for International Student Assessment. It’s an, international exam for 15 year-olds, in science, mathematics and literature, taken in the language of the student’s country. It’s a voluntary exam for both private and public school students, .Critical thinking skills are required to do well on the exams.

           Instead of expecting students to name the first ten dynasties of China, which they could look up on Internet, they may have to explain what a dynasty is, and explain why did dynasties last for 2000 years as a form of government in China and Egypt.

           The dependency on memorized responses, multiple-choice, true/false, easy-to-score answers, tedious, useless homework, which parents admittedly do for their children, and the traditional teacher-controlled lectures, students copying notes, sitting in desks arranged in lock-step rows, all combine to keep our students underdeveloped academically and intellectually, resulting in extremely low PISA scores by our 15 year olds.

           Without one other change, at no economic cost or special books, the implementation of critical thinking can make the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

The highest form of teaching occurs when students are:

  1. Working cooperatively
  2. Solving open-ended problems
  3. Using higher-order critical thinking  (Bloom’s Taxonomy)

            Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchy (taxonomy) of six levels of cognitive thought, developed by Dr. Benjamin Bloom in 1954. It demonstrates HOW humans best develop critical thinking skills. The simple key to raise the level of how humans think is to change the verb in the activity or assignment. It’s a much lower level of thought to ask students to «List five vegetable» than to ask them to «Illustrate five vegetables», or even higher level thinking,  «Invent a healthy day’s menu, including five fruits and five vegetables.»

             Despite minor re-arrangement of Bloom’s original order in 2000, no one has come up with a better way to explain the levels of cognitive learning, so it is still in use after more than 50 years.  There now is a variation of Bloom’s taxonomy, mainly to have a different format among the six levels of Bloom’s original hierarchy, switching synthesis with evaluation, to demonstrate that creativity (ability to synthesize) is a more complex cognitive skill than evaluation.

            The purpose of this article, is to guide teachers to go beyond the first two levels of the Taxonomy, because they are based on low level thinking, instead, aiming to reach higher order thinking skills, which are he four higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This simple change leads students to critical thinking.

            These are the SIX LEVELS of BLOOM’S TAXONOMY, from LOWEST to HIGHEST. Originally. Bloom used NOUNS to describe each level. The 2000 version of his Taxonomy replaced the NOUNS with VERBS, to focus more on actions which exhibit the learning. Here, we will use the VERBS.

                        Based on memory
                        EXAMPLE: Counting 1 to 10
                        Understanding basic concepts
                        EXAMPLE: Being able to identify the number of objects shown.
                        Applying what you know
                        EXAMPLE: Solving or inventing a mathematical word problem
                        Taking things apart
                        EXAMPLE: Given a number, such as 16, finding various ways to express it.
                        Judging, deciding, choosing
                        EXAMPLE: Given the name of a historical figure, being able to discuss, diagram, make a
                        time line, or write about his/her role in history.
6. CREATE / Synthesize
                        Putting things together
                        EXAMPLE: Using 10 given words ,or a pattern, as a basis to develop an  original poem.


         Higher-order thinking is a concept of educational reform based on learning – taxonomies, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy. (See chart below.) By varying the verbs in your lesson plans and instructions to students, you can raise your students’ levels of responses, leading to critical thinking..

         The idea is that some types of learning require more cognitive processing than others, but also have more generalized benefits. In Bloom’s taxonomy, for example, skills involving analysis, evaluation and synthesis (creation of new knowledge) are thought to be of a higher order, requiring different learning and teaching methods, than the learning of facts and concepts which are based on memory.

         Higher order thinking involves the learning of complex judgmental skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. Higher order thinking is a bit more difficult to learn or teach, but it’s also more valuable, because such skills are more likely to be usable in novel situations, such as in situations other than those in which the skill was learned. With practice, varying the verbs in instructions to the students.

         Countries, such as Finland, Canada, and South Korea, which score very highly in PISA exams, use a great deal of high level, critical thinking in all grades, classes, and subjects.

         The lowest scoring countries are, without exception, the countries with the most traditional forms of teaching, based mainly on Bloom’s lowest two levels, which depend greatly on memorization and a regurgitation of facts.

         While the two lower levels of the taxonomy provide a base of important knowledge, skills, and facts, unless the teacher guides students to higher levels of the taxonomy, higher-oredr, critical thinking will not be developed.

        Bloom said, » Real learning begins at the APPLICATION level.»  He called the two lower levels, (Knowledge and Comprehension), «Learning for school». He called the four higher order skills, «Learning for life.»

         Critical thinking / higher-order thinking can be adapted easily to lessons IF the teacher realizes that the key to any lesson is the VERB. Simply by changing the VERB in the lesson, you can raise the level of thought required.    (See verb chart below.)

Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs

            Simply by changing the verbs in your lesson plans, you can raise the level of critical thinking expected from your students.

            It requires very different skills for a student to LIST five vegetables than to ILLUSTRATE five vegetables. One relies on memory; the other relies on the ability to apply what one knows and understands.

           Simply by changing the verb in an activity, you can change the level of thinking required by the student. Levels 1, 2 are basic levels. Aim to reach 3, 4, 5, and 6, the higher level thinking, over time.        


1. Know    =   To recall or recognize information

Activities at this level:

  • multiple-choice test
  • recount facts or statistics
  • recall a process
  • rules
  • definitions
  • quote a law or procedure
  • arrange
  • define
  • describe
  • label
  • list
  • memorize
  • recognize
  • relate
  • reproduce
  • select
  • state

2. Comprehend  =  To understand meaning

Activities at this level:

  • re-state data in one’s own words
  • interpret
  • extrapolate
  • translate
  • explain
  •  interpret meaning from a given scenario or statement
  • suggest treatment
  • reaction or solution to given problem
  • give examples or metaphors
  • reiterate
  • re-word

3. Apply This is where REAL learning begins, (according to Bloom) To use or apply knowledge

Activities at this level:

  • put theory into practice
  • use knowledge in response to real circumstances
  • put a theory into practical effect
  • demonstrate
  • solve a problem
  • manage an activity
  • role play
  • use
  • apply
  • discover
  •  manage
  • execute
  • produce
  • implement
  • construct
  • change
  • perform
  • respond
  • prepare

4. Analyze  (take apart)  = To interpret elements or  organizational principles

Activities at this level:

  • construct
  • identify constituent parts and functions of a process or concept
  • de-construct a methodology or process
  • make a qualitative assessment of elements
  • explain or diagram relationships, values and effects
  • measure requirements or needs
  • analyze
  • break down the parts of something
  • catalogue
  • compare / contrast
  • quantify
  • measure
  • test
  • examine
  • experiment
  • relate
  • graph or diagram
  • plot
  • divide

5. Assess / Evaluate  =  choose, decide which is better or best, weighted opinions of things

Activities at this level:

  • assess effectiveness of whole concepts, in relation to values, outputs, efficacy, viability;
  • use thinking
  • exhibit strategic
  • comparison and review
  • judgment relating to external criteria
  • review
  • justify
  • select
  • choose
  • assess
  • present a case for something
  • defend
  • report
  • investigate
  • direct
  • appraise
  • argue
  • project
  • manage

6.  Create / Synthesis  = create / build

 Activities at this level:

  • develop new unique structures, systems, models, approaches, ideas; creative thinking, operations
  • develop plans or procedures
  • design solutions
  • integrate methods, resources, ideas, parts
  • create teams or new approaches
  • write protocols or contingencies
  • develop
  • plan
  • build
  • create
  • design
  • organize
  • revise
  • formulate
  • propose
  • establish
  • assemble
  • integrate
  • re-arrange
  • modify
  • invent


EXAMPLE of the use of the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Using the story «Goldilocks», you can see how a child can be guided by a skillful teacher to reach all the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Remember, Bloom’s Taxonomy should be used with all students of any age or grade level, in order to develop higher level, critical thinking. This example is based on a children’s story, but the same six levels could be used with «Hamlet», or «Catcher in the Rye».

 Know The recall of specific information

List the characters in the story.
What were the bears eating?
Where was Goldilocks when the bears found her?
 Comprehend An understanding of what was read

Retell the events in the story in your own words.
Why was Goldilocks afraid of the bears?
Why was Goldilocks sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed?
The using of what is understood in a new situation

Tell what might have happened if you had been Goldilocks.
Relate the story from the point of view of Baby Bear.
Use the information in the story to build a model of the bears’ house.
 Analyze The breaking down of information into parts

Compare Goldilocks’ experience with that of Little Red Riding Hood’s
Identify the parts of the story that could happen to you.
What are all the elements in the story that indicate it is a fairy tale.
 Assess /Evaluate Making a judgment about the value of something

Judge whether or not Goldilocks made a good decision by running away from the bears.  Explain.
Pretend that Goldilocks was on trial for “breaking and entering.”  Decide whether you would find her guilty.  Justify your decision.
Evaluate Goldilocks’ behavior as a guest in the bears’ house.
Create /Synthesize The combining of parts into something new

Suppose that Goldilocks had found the home of the Three Raccoons. 
What might have happened?
Create a new ending for this story.
What if Goldilocks had brought a friend to the home of the Three Bears.
How might the story have changed?
























                        Bloom’s Taxonomy of Six Cognitive Levels     

            Level 1: Know
            A starting point that includes both the acquisition of information and the ability to recall information when needed.

                        A. Classifying
                        B. Distinguishing opinion from fact
                        C. Giving definitions and examples
                        D. Outlining and summarizing

            Level 2: Comprehend
            The basic level of understanding. It involves the ability to know what is being     communicated in order to make use of the information.

                        A. Making comparisons
                        B. Identifying structure
                        C. Ordering steps in a process
                        D. Reading charts and graphs
                        E. Recognizing meaning
                        F. Identifying main ideas
                        G. Identifying relationships

             3: Apply

            The ability to use a learned skill in a new situation.

                        A. Estimating
                        B. Anticipating probabilities
                        C. Making inferences
                        D. Applying math

            Level 4: Analyze

            The ability to break down information into its integral parts and to identify the    relationship of each part of the total organization.

                        A. Judging completeness
                        B. Recognizing relevance & irrelevance
                        C. Identifying story elements
                        D. Judging sentence sequence
                        E. Recognizing fallacies

            Level 5: Assess / Evaluate

            The ability to make a judgment about the value of something by using

             a standard.

                        A. Making generalizations
                        B. Developing criteria
                        C. Judging accuracy
                        D. Making decisions
                        E. Identifying values
                        F. Identifying the mood of a story

            Level 6: Create / Synthesize

            The ability to combine existing elements in order to create something        original.

                        A. Communicating ideas
                        B. Planning projects
                        C. Forming hypotheses
                        D. Drawing conclusions

                        E. Creating art, music, math problems, games

                        F. Creating original poems and stories.


You can make small changes, teachers, because with small changes in your teaching techniques, you’ll gradually transform yourself and your students.

As Pablo Doberti said in 2010, «We can’t talk about reforms in education if there are no changes in the classroom.»